Going Gently into the Light

All I want is to be gentle and to have the right to be gentle. It is not my time to protest anymore, but giving it up feels like an abandonment not only of those in need and those in pain and those in loss, but of myself, of the spirit of my younger self. It is confused by my physical weariness.

Some people climb the Himalayans in their 70s or even 80s, but that will not be me.

I am not complaining, though I am baffled. Doctors do not decipher my weariness, they prescribe or they look at me slightly askance as though someone who looks as I look must be a malingerer, or neurotic, certainly unrealistic and narcissistic. They are not inside my body.

I am not a malingerer. My body and my mind are weary. Wrong, only part of my mind is weary. One part is burstingly alive, radiant, claiming, grabbing, and appalled at the other half.

Forget names, forget the names of things, forget the sequence of events over the past week, forget spellings.

Doctors say is it usual. It is NOT usual. It is not acceptable, though I try, when I am not angry or frightened.

Have you noticed how we never grow up? How dreams and thoughts take us back to childhood, and there it revamps things? It makes memories and some good guys problematic, but more, it makes some bad guys good. We come to understand those who hurt us and accept the cages that destroyed them and harmed us. We become organisms that forgive, even as some people must be written off.

And even that loses meaning too with time.

I don’t want to be the old woman in the chair in the corner, and it is difficult to imagine I will be even as I might be. “She was so vital,” they’ll say. “She was something in her day.”

I just want to be gentle and gracious and generous and to have flashes of brilliances. Strangely I do have flashes of brilliance, mostly private. They come as gifts special delivery from a bright and shining light, and they blow me away. No, they lift me, and fly me to clean places where for a moment I am where forever lives.

I just want to be gentle and know that I too will be forgiven for wrongs and errors, and that I have a right to be gentle, that the world will be safe enough for the elderly to be gentle if they need be, without guilt, that we can mourn our losses quietly and let joy flow like light through our veins without guilt for not having done more.

Perhaps this will change, perhaps my body will find a key to turn that brings it back to power and rambunctiousness, and I would accept that gladly. Who wouldn’t? Reality has always included miracles we can work towards and be open to, but not command.

Perhaps the miracle is that, as my body gentles itself, love occupies all its spaces.

 

 

Love, Beauty, and Soul are Dirty Words

We love children and polar bears being rescued, but something has gone wrong. We are not fully alive if we do not recognize those who died. We bind up and choke our souls when we do not mourn unnecessary death with outrage.

Pondering:

My dog ponders why he gets dried treats while humans get chocolate truffles, not to mention lobster chowder and mushroom pastries. Still he loves us, especially the grandchildren, and is mature enough not to make sneak attacks for nibbles off the counter.

My 7-year-old granddaughter ponders if she has remembered everyone she wants to give gifts, not allowing herself any excuses for her age. Her body twitches in anticipation of giving her gifts, each with a note saying she loves you.

My 9-year-old grandson ponders the structure of the US Congress and the electoral college and asks if there is an exact correlation between the number of representatives a state has and the number of its electoral representatives, or if it is only approximate. He loves his nation and feels we and it are in danger.

I ponder why I have more anxiety cooking for guests than I had facing angry men with guns in foreign nations.

I ponder free will, the nature of the conscience, the nature of consciousness, if forgiveness has any real meaning, if there is a separate entity we conveniently call “soul” or if that is a blend of our psychology, memory, ethics, longings – like custom paint mixtures with a drop of cerulean blue, some spring green, a tad of gingko leaf green, and a dollop of blood red until you get what feels like the essence of what you are looking for.

I ponder why I love more as I age, how to prevent wrinkles, how much exercise is really necessary, the nutrient value of mushroom powders, what happens to your cells when you have no sexual partner, the size of the universe, and will I have a self-awareness that can self-identify as “me” after I die?

My therapist ponders if she should be pragmatic with me or abstract, usually choosing pragmatic since I handle abstractions better than daily life – usually, not always.

Like my grandson, and every adult I know, I ponder if the T-word (I cannot say his name, which is pragmatic for the state of my psyche) is ushering in – with his band of humorless martinets – the end of the world, the end of the world as we know it, or not so many changes after all.

I do not need to ponder if he is sane.

Love, beauty, and soul:

What I ponder most is love. I read that writers are told not to use the words “soul” or “beauty.” But I know beauty when I see it and I know soul when I feel it. If not using those words has any value other than to get us to further differentiate into details and nuances, I don’t know what it is. We should speak of beauty and soul all the time, delve into their mysteries and their healing powers.

Beauty and soul, like love, cover a lot of territory and are true, and are not afraid to get dirty.

The White Helmets rescuing Syrians from under tens of tons of concrete rubble are beautiful and dirty and work out of love.

Polar bears on melting snow and ice are beautiful and heartbreaking and trying to save their cubs.

Parents carrying children a day’s journey to hospitals across barren earth are weary with grieving for their beloved and desperately ill babies.

Love and beauty and soul mingle with the blood, shit, and gurgling of those who die by guns, drones, bombs, and diseases. They loved and they were loved.

Hearts and minds off course:

We love children and polar bears being rescued, but something has gone wrong. We are not fully alive if we do not recognize those who died. We bind up and choke our souls when we do not mourn unnecessary death with outrage.

Lincoln Financial is one sponsor of The PBS News Hour. Their ad begins with “feel good” photos and a reassuring male voice telling us “You can care for many, but you can only love a precious few.” It then shows photos of loving moments limited to two or three family members.

When a widely broadcast ad tells us we can only love a precious few, when a script like that gets through the advertising department and the corporate higher ups, we have crossed into dangerous territory, a land where the T-word and his racism, bigotry, hatred, threats, and walls are elected – if not by the majority, still legally – to lead our country. Children like my grandson know and feel the poison for what it is, poison.

Feeling the love:

As I age, I witness my love expanding, seemingly on its own. Do I love the T-word’s cabinet appointees? No, but I don’t exactly hate them either. “Abhor” is a more accurate word.

I’ve become one of those women who has become gaga with love. This is not an abstraction, it is my reality. I touch it and feel it, even if I cannot explain it.

Do not tell me I can love only a precious few! That is bunk, a lie. It is wrong, it is the opposite of what I do and most people do. We love widely and deeply, and would love even more if we understood it as the natural and healthy way of living – if we had more courage, more encouragement, more faith in ourselves.

Love, beauty, and living aligned with your soul is as pragmatic as it can get. It is the only way we will survive.

 

Bad Husbands Are People Too

I didn’t set out to marry bad husbands. It was something that happened along the way, and rather like unhappy families are unhappy in different ways, my bad husbands were bad in different ways.

This first I won’t talk about because he is still in my life as the father of my daughter and grandfather of my grandchildren – and because at her wedding he suddenly burst out with an incredible backhand apology in the reception line after more than three decades of silence. It was poorly timed, and was a kick to my heart. I collapsed in sobs in a corner while my third husband tried to shield me from the wedding party.

The second one I will talk about because he had someone track me down a week ago after two decades of silence. He is the catalyst for this blog. I had not known for years if he were dead or alive. I last saw him over 20 years ago in a banana grove on the side of a mountain in Maui.

Husband number two is alive, but dying. We will return to him, but, first, let’s do a fast review of husband number three.

No, first of all, I want to say that I am blessed beyond measure. My life is an astonishment of good things outside of my husbands. The dichotomy between the rest of my life and my husbands is an endorsement for reincarnation and karma. I must have been a real bitch in my past lives.

Husband number three was in some ways the worst because his motives were purely self-serving. He had the power to behave differently. He had options. His decision to lead a secret double life with a woman twenty years younger and to buy apartments in Beijing and San Francisco was calculated and deliberate. I saw how power corrupts, seduces, and confuses. It can make you believe you are above the rules that apply to others. He had never considered that I might refuse to accept an arrangement where he would be with me 50% of the time and with her 50% of the time.

It never crossed his mind I would leave, which I did within 25 minutes of reading the 2 ½ pages of revelations and future conditions that he handed me – oh, so sweetly and with such love in his eyes – in our garden. I left 24 minutes after smashing the glass with my strawberry smoothie into the wall.

It got worse after that, a stunning reversal from his being my soul mate since college, mate for 18 years, and champion. His acts were perhaps those of an angry, hurt, and emotionally immature man, but they were not the acts of a broken man. He had choices and options. He could have behaved better, but chose not to.

My second husband, however, was broken. His violence and rages were not calculated. They answered to an internal skewed gyroscope. He blacked out during his violence, though I didn’t know that until a year into it. They were frightening, controlling, and twice just skirted being fatal “accidents,” but they had little or nothing to do with me, or with us. We actually had times of peace, even as I had to be very careful.

His attempt to let me know that he was very ill came by a circuitous route. He asked his wife to contact a mutual friend from 35 year ago, who found my daughter through an Internet search and sent an email to where she worked. That was a week ago. By now I know that he has Lewy Body Disease, the most common dementia after Alzheimer’s. He also has Parkinson’s.

He cannot use a computer and has trouble with telephones. He was recently moved into an assisted living home in Tucson. They had moved from Hawaii to Tucson, he had bad lungs. He always thought it was his lungs that would get him.

I was given his mailing address. What? I’m to write and say . . . what? What does he remember? What does he know? What does he want from me? Do I owe him anything?

He was a failed yogi who meditated hours a day. Everyone thought he was so gentle. He was not. He wore drawstring pants and flip-flops and yogi shirts. At one time he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. People thought he was so gentle. He was not. He controlled my life and blamed me and felt unloved by me even though he was, though with time he was not. He was beaten as a child by his father and thought he deserved it. He smiled serenely and I heard the electricity snap in his back when he meditated. People thought he was so gentle. He was not. He was living proof that if you are going to mess with intense high energies you better have your psychological shit together or you can become very bad.

Life doesn’t follow nice clean script lines. Am I to write to him and say I forgive you when he may not be able to make sense of that? He did, after all, a decade after we separated (30 years ago now) visit my city and beg to see me. I refused. He begged again. I allowed it. He fell on his knees and begged my forgiveness. I told him the forgiveness he needed was his own, not mine. Did he forget that? Does it need renewing? Does this have anything at all to do with harm done?

Perhaps he just wants me to know he’s wrapping things up, and I am glad to know that, and I wish him no harm though my tongue has gone over the scar inside my lip more often this week than it has in many years. After that first time, he learned how to hit without blood.

The past week has included the resurrection of old memories. Disoriented bats of fear and trauma flew at me, shrieking “remember me?” But they have calmed down now, murmuring in a far back corner, wings folded, returning to sleep – so that the week also became one of reflection on him and our time together – and also, for reasons having to do with the dispensing of art, of reflection on my third husband who made choices consciously and deliberately. (In writing this blog, I may forfeit pieces of art I adore, but I’m bloody well finished with self-censoring.)

Forgiveness. Everyone thinks it’s about forgiveness. But I don’t think so. I forgave husband number two soon after the separation, and I forgave husband number three so quickly that it was almost simultaneous with each harm over several years. I don’t seem to have filing systems that store hate. For disgust, grief, momentary anger, repugnance, yes. Hate, no. It always breaks down when I focus on the individual.

Bad husbands are people too, and perhaps there are different kinds of broken. Some are brittle and snap people into fragments. Others are sloppy and bend people to do stupid things and cruel things – and to become blind and deaf to what is good and what is clear.

It is interesting how people who are not clear themselves often cannot tell who around them is clear, or helpful, or good. Projection is a demon.

Yet, I have become the person I am because of life experiences, including three husbands. Perhaps if enough harm is done, one gives up hate because if you did not, it would destroy you. What a perverse way to surrender to love.

Perhaps I will write husband number two. I sent a message back through the circuitous route thanking him for letting me know and telling him I wish him peace. But as his mind leaves, he may forget that. If I send a note saying that same thing, then he has something that he can hold in his hand. Maybe he can manage to remember the good parts. Something in me would like that.

 

In Celebration of Women of a Certain Age

She wears sorrow well, a Chanel jacket of translucent threads and occasional sunbeam, each loss a scarf, bracelet, or glove.

Do not even enter her life unless you are the stuff of finest silk, metal, or perfume.

She will transform you when you are gone.                                               

We are three women, 70 and older, living alone, our houses next to each other. We have been married five times, divorced four times, widowed twice, and lost two partners to dementia. We are called les trois graces. We radiate class.

Beyond my street, I have many more women friends of a certain age. My five closest friends, now living alone, have had six marriages, three long-time partners, four divorces, and been widowed three times. Each woman is more engaging and beautiful than the other.

Only one of us has serious health issues, two have had love affairs with men half our age, one is having a movie made of her life, another does scuba dives and two of us ice skate, one is active with on-line dating while another is an international fashion icon, two of us are working to inspire global movements to create a better world, and one of us is prodigiously creating miniature collages juxtaposing spiritual light and earthly violence. One is in Cuba with her Belgium lover. We have gravitas and style that women under 50 have not yet considered possible for themselves.

We know how to deal with men who are pompous, wear classic suits from two decades ago, cook signature dishes from each of the many lives we’ve led, travel anywhere in the world and order the best food on the menu, flirt without taking our clothes off, manage money, and create homes that are breathtaking. Breathtaking.

Plus, we get to say things like “I saw on Facebook that the second husband of the woman currently with my third husband just had an operation.” It takes decades of life to be able to say something like that. It’s almost worth it just for that.

It’s not about what we have done – led organizations, published innumerable books, been in the foreign service in Asian posts, run art galleries, headed boards, set up global networks, and been mothers, wives, and organizers. No, it’s about who we are now. It’s about what our pasts have become.

We are burnished, elaborated, embossed, glowing, subtle, nuanced, tricky, Baccarat crystal, crepe de chine, and mysterious. We are mysterious even to ourselves.

We became who we are not only through decades of experience, and continuing losses, and low points that were as low as the highs were high, but by what we chose to leave behind and what we chose to bring with us to now – by what we discarded and what we embraced.

We created the beings we are. We selected this memory and discarded that one. We interpreted experiences in ways where we rung whatever juice was in them out of them so we could drink of it and say “Yes, this is good” or “Yes, you taste bitter, but I accept you.”

We learned how to leave things and people when that was called for and to make the path of the future wider, not narrower. We learned that people will leave us, abandon us, betray us and still we make the path of the future wider, not narrower.

We learned to answer the call to joy. We learned to swim through the dark deep waters and observe wild creatures of grief, first in rawness and then, slowly slowly, dressed politely enough to be brought to the surface, presentable at the dining table as our friend.

We learned that when you have a minority fraction of your life left that nothing is so important as to make it sweet and to savor it. We have learned to make things of beauty out of loss. We have made things of beauty out of our selves.